Thursday, June 26, 2014

Alive On The Drive

Our two Aussies were still showing a few signs of jet lag by the time I'd returned home from work and we knew that we had some hefty times just around the corner. So, Boo and I took it easy on them for the evening and just introduced them to our hood. We strolled down Commercial Drive and let them pick a cuisine that piqued their fancy from the smorgasbord that is The Drive. Pizza was the choice du jour.

1648.  2010 Pupillo - Re Federico Nero d'Avola (Sicilia Rosso IGT - Italy)

This wasn't a winery that I was familiar with but I thought the Nero d'Avola would match up pretty well with whatever pizza we decided to chow down on. I still couldn't find an awful lot about the winery when I searched it later but, from what little I did find, Pupillo seems to be a fairly new winery in the ancient area around Syracuse on Sicily. Most of the links or press I saw on the family winery related to a dessert wine, Moscato di Siracusa, that they are championing and bringing back from near extinction.

The Nero d'Avola is Pupillo's take on perhaps Sicily's best known grape. An easy drinking red, I rather thought the wine might be of a similar profile to Merlot Boy's favoured Aussie Merlots - being bigger and fruitier than most of the Chiantis or Valpolicellas that were the other well-priced Italian reds populating the wine list. We'd certainly finished off the bottle long before we boxed up our leftover 'za but I wouldn't say that the wine left Merlot Boy swearing off his beloved Merlots. I'm still up in the air.

But, you know, The Drive is Vancouver's modern version of what's left of Little Italy. So, when in Rome...

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Aussies in the House

We've been anticipated their arrival for months now but Merlot Boy and Margarita have finally arrived on our doorstep - and I'm thinking there's going to be a wee bit of booze playing a role in our lives as long as the Two Kangaroos are gracing our Vancouver shores.

Since neither wine nor I was involved in their initial day touring the town, I was lucky enough to arrive home with both dinner and thirsty tourists front and centre when I arrived home from work. Boo had made that most Canadian of dishes for dinner: butter chicken. So, we took advantage of the good weather and our guests and dined al fresco in the garden. A simple luxury that we don't do nearly enough.

I'd been waiting for an opportunity to open a trio of 2012 Orofino Rieslings for some time now - and, yes, that was "trio." John and Virginia Weber of Orofino decided, with their 2012 vintage, that they'd highlight the different terroirs of the three vineyards where their Riesling grapes are grown and take a slightly different approach to the production of each of the three wines.

I pointed out to Merlot Boy (who, despite his name, will drink other types of wine - or beer or vodka or whatever else you're serving) and Margarita (same side note for her drinking habits as well) that three different versions of the same varietal from a boutique, BC producer is extremely rare. Indeed, I can't think of any other similar production.

It also didn't hurt that Orofino is one of my favourite local wineries.

Normally, I'd tell a few tales about the winery and the folks behind it, but I've already added enough Orofino wines to The List that I can just point you to the post I wrote leading up to the 2013 Wine Bloggers Conference. I think it's safe to say that it's as comprehensive as I get in the blog and there's no need in repeating myself here.

1645.  2012 Orofino Home Vineyard Riesling (VQA Similkameen Valley)

1646.  2012 Orofino Scout Vineyard Riesling (VQA Similkameen Valley)

1647.  2012 Orofino Hendesbee Vineyard Riesling (VQA Similkameen Valley)

Regular visitors to the blog know that Riesling and I are the fondest of friends. So, the opportunity to see how a favourite producer ventured to take three different approaches is a godsend. It's the rare occasion where Boo and I open three bottles of wine for one dinner; so, I'll admit that waiting for an occasion such as this was quite the task to hold off on pulling the cork on at least one of the bottles. Thankfully, that occasion arrived with our two antipodeans.

In talking with John at the winery, he emphasized that he's looking more and more to emphasize the single vineyard aspect of his production. Previously, Orofino's Rieslings were blended to make a single wine - and, even then, there wasn't a whole lot of it. John's practice had always been to ferment the different vineyard fruit separately but he found himself short of space with the three Rieslings; so, he aged the home vineyard fruit in used French oak (and one acacia barrel) while the other two Rieslings remained in stainless steel. He found that the three wines were different enough from each other that they warranted separate bottlings - even though that meant there'd only be 300 cases of Hendsbee, 250 cases of Scout and 100 cases of the Home Vineyard wine.

We found those different profiles to be telling as well. I often find that it's hard enough to differentiate between varietal wines from different producers, let alone wines from the same producer, but that wasn't the case here. Each wine had a telltale profile. The Hendsbee jumped out of the glass with its racy acidity, while John had left a bit of residual sugar on the Scout Riesling - not that this was a sweet wine in any sense of the word. Interestingly enough, it was the Home Vineyard that proved to be a slight favourite at the dinner table and that was the wine that saw some barrel ageing. John has talked about this wine seeing a fair bit of lees stirring (lees being the spent yeast cells and the stirring of those lees often resulting in a richer, fuller feel to the wine) and maybe it was that extra note of complexity - that cut the acidity just a touch - that made the difference.

It was no surprise that all three wines disappeared without problem, however - and I can only hope that we sip on a whole whack of other treats while the Aussies are gracing us with their presence.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Azzurri Have Been Ripassed Over For the Playoff Rounds

I figure I'd best fit another soccer themed wine in as I'm not sure how much time I'll be able to spend on the World Cup once our visiting Aussies arrive tomorrow. Merlot Boy may be a sports fanatic but I think his tastes gravitate more to Aussie Rules footy, swimming and tennis. You know, sports that Australians can generally beat Canadians at on the field. Plus, I have a feeling he and Margarita will be  more inclined to tour our fair city than to sit around watching soccer.

Whether Merlot Boy wants to watch the World Cup or not, we won't be watching the Italians play anymore. The Azzurri lost 1-0 to Uruguay today and are now out of this World Cup. There were no celebrations today on Vancouver's Commercial Drive. Like us, Little Italy will have to drown its sorrows in wine.

Since this was the last Italian appearance in Brazil, I grabbed an Italian wine. That and the fact that I don't exactly have a large array of Uruguayan wines at my fingertips.

1644.  2011 Cantina di Negrar - Le Roselle Ripasso Classico Superiore (Valpolicella D.O.C. - Italy)

Just as Canada is always on the look out for a World Cup bound men's soccer team (the women do us quite proud thank you very much), I'm always on the look out for a nice Ripasso wine. I haven't seen this particular Ripasso before but I've since found out that Cantina di Negrar is a label range that is advertised as the "soul" of Cantina Valpolicella Negrar, a co-operative near Verona that has been producing wine since 1933. The co-operative consists of 230 members and their collective vineyards cover 600 hectares of diverse landscape in the Valpolicella region.

Since I've previously written about the wine style in the blog, I'll just briefly repeat that Ripasso wines are Valpolicella wines that have been "repassed" over the skins and spent yeasts from the region's bigger, more premium Amarone wines. The additional step adds some extra body and flavour profiles to the standard Valpolicella wines. I quite like the additional effort because - as much as I love them - we rarely shell out for the more expensive Amarones. On the other hand, I find most of the Valpolicellas in our market to be a bit light and nondescript for my tastes.

The Le Roselle Ripasso uses both the traditional Corvina and Rondinella grapes in its blend but the wine also contains 15% Corvinone. I don't have any recollection of that grape and I immediately thought it might just be another name for Corvina but Jancis Robinson (and crew), in their tome Wine Grapes, includes Corvinone as a distinct, although somewhat rare, variety of its own. Traditionally used for blending in Valpolicella, Amarone and Recioto, it would be rare to find Corvinone made into a varietal wine but, all the same, I've got me another grape to add to my Wine Century Club tally.

I believe this addition takes me to #173. Slowly, but surely, I'm making my way to that magical #200 grape when I can apply for my Doppel membership with the Wine Century Club.

While this wasn't most intense Ripasso I've had, it acquitted itself quite nicely in the glass. I'm thinking that this Italian wine collective faired a tad better than the soccer collective did on the pitch today.

Next up....Aussies in the House.

Prepping the Guest Rooms

1643.  2005 Sandhill Syrah (VQA OkanaganValley)

Guess we'll simply call tonight a bit of a clean-up. We've got a couple of Aussies - blog "regulars" Merlot Boy and Margarita - arriving tomorrow and their rooms to be still need a good shot of sprucing up. There's no way I was about to tackle that empty handed; so, we decided to kill two birds with one stone and clean up the "cellar" by choosing a somewhat of an older bottle.

Sandhill has long been one of my favourite BC wineries and its winemaker, Howard Soon, is an ever-intriguing and all-around nice guy. That being said, I probably should have opened this bottle some time ago. Granted, Sandhill standardly offers two Syrahs - its Small Lots premium bottle and this general release offering - and this bottle isn't particularly made for ageing. I'd guess that the winery sees this bottle being purchased by your regular wine buyer who, on average, ages his wines 30 minutes before the cork is pulled. I doubt too many folks lay these bottles down for six or seven years.

I think my original thought when buying this bottle was that I'd age it for a bit and do a mini-tasting with one of the '05 Small Lots Syrahs to compare the two. That doesn't seem to have happened.

All this is leading up to the fact that the bottle was past its prime. We've been very lucky with our cellared Okanagan reds as they start to get a bit of age on them. No one was willing to swear on the ability to age BC wines a decade a go, but I think it's now safe to say that the well made bottles are doing just fine. Thank you very much.

The Syrah didn't quite live up to the same degree of ageing. It still had a brilliant nose on it for an older entry level wine but the finish wasn't nearly as nice as I think it would have been five years ago. Not a lot of fruit on the palate to match with the structure that remained and the balance just didn't live up to my regular expectations for a Sandhill wine.

Then again, maybe the task at hand - housecleaning - just left everything in my life a bit bitter for the moment. I probably should have cleaned with a martini.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Green Eggs & Ham - Graduation Day

I can only pretend to understand what truly goes through Perry's mind on a daily basis - such must be his life living with Asperger's - but I think it's pretty safe to say that he was a pretty proud guy today as he graduated from high school.

I said the same thing a couple of years ago when Perry's sister, Stargirl, graduated, but I can't believe how extravagant high school graduations have become - cap and gown, local dignitaries and processions across the stage at Simon Fraser University's great concourse. It appears high school gym stages aren't quite as acceptable nowadays as they were in my day. Then again, didn't we use to trudge six miles through three feet of snow in tired old Basketmaster runners, blah, blah, blah? How times have changed.

One neat aspect of Perry's graduation - that is, neat if there hadn't been 500+ kids to go through - was that, as each student walked across the stage, a short quote of their choosing was read out. None of us knew what Perry had chosen. In addition to thanking his Mom and teachers, his parting words were, "I do not like them Sam I Am. I do not like green eggs and ham."

Dr. Seuss? I'd have guessed Phinneas & Ferb or Mario Bros. Shows you what I know but I was secretly that his procession was greeted with a healthy round of applause.

On top of that, Perry's graduation called for a family and friends' BBQ and, funny, we had us some wine to toast Perry. I offered him a glass as well but received his regular, "No thanks Uncle Bob."

1640.  2013 Miraval Côtes de Provence Rosé (AOC Côtes de Provence -France)

That didn't stop the rest of us and I was more than happy to see that Perry's mom, my sis, Vixen, brought out one of her recent shower gifts - a bottle of Brangelina's Rosé. Not that she knew what Miraval was until after I'd told her.

I'd wanted to try the wine following its début last year but had yet to commit to the $30 sticker price it carries in Vancouver. Since it was the only Rosé wine named to Wine Spectator's best 100 wines of the year, that would presumably that make Miraval the best Rosé wine in the world last year.

Hey, I guess this means that any one of us should be able to bag one of the year's best with our first vintage - if we have $60 million to buy a château and estate - one that happens to come with its own valley and a geography that allows estate vineyards to encompass exposures of every which manner.

Up front, I'll admit that, in general, I'm a fan of Provençal Rosé but I wanted to like this wine more than I actually did. Although a touch unorthodox, I don't mind the packaging at all and it's undoubtably a pretty wine. I found it, however, to be very acidic but without the counterbalancing fruit that I so enjoy with local BC Rosés. Granted, it may have fared better with food but it was long gone by the time we got the BBQ going. Seems I wasn't the only one who wanted a touch of Brad and Angelina in their life. Hopefully, I'll get a chance to horn in on another bottle that some unwittingly opens.

1641.  Amberley - Kiss & Tell Moscato (Western Australia)

I'd picked up the Moscato partially because, to some extent, it's a flavour of the month, but also because it hails from Western Australia. When I see the words "Western Australia" in conjunction with wine, I'm automatically on my way to thoughts of happy sips. My thoughts just go straight to Margaret River and one of my favourite wine regions in the world. We don't see many Western Australian wines in our neck of the woods, but the ones that do find their way here are often delightful sips.

The reason I'd brought the bottle to Perry's BBQ was that I figured this would be a wine that would appeal to his sisters. Stargirl is just starting to regularly accept a glass of wine with us at family gatherings and I thought this might work with the youngest, Melmo, as well. Stargirl said this was right up here alley and even Melmo took a couple sips and said that it was "alright." It was a bit too sweet for my liking and even though I didn't notice any of the promised spritz, but I could see using it in an Aperol cocktail should we run across another bottle.

1642.  2012 Cline - Lodi Zinfandel (California)

For my glass, the Zin was the steadiest pour of the lot. That being said, this isn't the kind of bottle that I'll drink a lot of. An everyday bottle in the US, it clocks in at about $20 in Vancouver - maybe twice the price you could find it for south of the border. This is a prime example of liquor board pricing up here and why I tend to only buy American wine when I'm actually in the States.

I was happy to have it in my glass at Perry's party though. Burgers and Zin are a classic pairing in my book. High school may be many decades behind me now, but I still know that there's always room for the classics.

As for Perry, he may not have as many options before him as his sisters do - and he may never be a wine drinker. All the same - and to invoke Dr. Suess again - he's certainly looking forward to all the places he'll go. No doubt we'll be along for much of the ride - glass in hand.

Pura Sangre

Another World Cup Game. Another wine from one of the teams playing. The only thing is that today's games featured Iran, Ghana, Nigeria, Bosnia and Herzegovina - not exactly hotbeds of wine production, at least not such that their wines are available in the Vancouver market. Luckily, Germany and Argentina were also playing games.

Seeing as how I've already opened a German Riesling for an earlier game, I think it's fair to drink Argentina this time around - particularly since they won their game over Iran by a 1-0 score.

1639.  2005 Domaine St. Diego - Pura Sangre (Mendoza - Argentina)

I'd been holding onto this bottle for the "right" occasion. It's not that the wine is incredibly expensive or over the top with production values - it's simply a "rare" bottle that I may never have another opportunity to try. Domaine St. Diego was one of our favourite winery visits when Boo and I enjoyed a brief tour of Mendoza in 2010. A "garagiste" winery in the truest of senses, the winery is the small family-run operation that Angel Mendoza (what a great name for a winemaker in Argentina) set up for the years following his retirement from Trapiche - one of Argentina's best known wine brands - after 25 years there.

Rather than repeat notes I've already relayed on Domaine St. Diego, I'll just add a link to that earlier post for anyone who'd like a little more information on the winery and our experience there.

Pura Sangre is a big blend of 80% Malbec/20% Cab Sauv and Angel Mendoza, in concert with his wife, sons and daughter, looks to capture his "privileged terroir" in a bottle. While there's no denying that this is a big wine with a New World profile, Mendoza strives to avoid the globalization of wine and its attendant "contemporary defects such as over ripened grapes, excess alcohol, low acidity, excess of oak and oxidation." The wine may be big but there's plenty of finesse and balance evident in the glass as well.

The wine is a deep, dark red and that may well play into the wine's name, "Pura Sangre" which translates as pure blood. The naming of the wine isn't that simplistic though. The name is also translated as meaning "thoroughbred" and I suppose it's fitting to drink a thoroughbred of wine when toasting Argentina's prowess on the soccer pitch.

I only wish I had more of it! This was the only bottle that we could bring back with us. I guess we'll just have to try and make our way down there one more time.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Uruguay Dashes England's Hopes - Time for Some Tannat

Time for another venture into World Cup wines. The latest game to catch my eye - as an excuse for opening a bottle of wine was Uruguay's 2-1 win over England. The South American team's win more-or-less killed England's chances of advancing to the next stage, but I'll leave the English fans to drown their sorrows in excessive pints, I'm pulling the cork on a boutique Uruguayan wine that I was given at  last year's Wine Blogger's Conference in Penticton.

During the WBC13 conference, I had a number of opportunities to chat with Leslie Fellows, the very personable Director of Sales for Artesana - a premium producer of wine in Uruguay that, understandably, focuses heavily on the Tannat variety. Luckily for me, Leslie is American and speaks English. I say, "luckily," because my Spanglish stops at "Buenos Dias Muchacho" and "dos cervezas por favour" - although I have mastered the fact that "vino tinto"  is "red wine" in Spanish. A handy phrase to know, I'm sure.

1638.  2011 Artesana Tannat-Merlot (Uruguay)

Artesana is a premium producer located in the Canelones region of Uruguay. Admittedly (and despite an interesting luncheon presentation at WBC13), my knowledge of Uruguayan wines more-or-less starts and ends with Tannat. I wouldn't know one wine producing region from another - or that there even are different regions in the country for that matter. The winery website, however, states that the Canelones region is just a short distance outside of the national capital Montevideo and is the "premier wine growing region in Uruguay and home to the majority of the country's vineyards...[with] growing conditions similar to France's Bordeaux region."

 Artesana is a relatively new enterprise and its first vineyard blocks were planted with Tannat, Merlot and Zinfandel in 2007 and 2008 - with the Zin being the first planting of the variety in Uruguay. Cabernet Franc vines were later planted in 2013 to provide additional blending options in the years to come. The winery currently offers five or six wines, including Tannat and Zinfandel varietal wines and this Tannat-Merlot blend.

The back label says that the 2011 vintage is a 60%-40% blend with Tannat providing the bigger proportion. The website goes further to say that the Merlot and Tannat blocks were fermented separately and aged in a mixture of new and used American and French oak for twelve months. The wines were then "blended and bottled without fining or filtration and bottle-aged an additional eight months."

We thought the wine was quite delightful - full of lovely, dark fruit - and, while you definitely noticed the tannins, they were far from overpowering.

There were only 580 cases of this wine made - out of a total production of 1250 cases - but the winery is aiming for a 4000 case capacity by 2016.

I've yet to see Artesana in the Vancouver market but I, for one, would be happy to see that happen.

The Uruguayan soccer team should only wish to be as successful on the field for the rest of the World Cup as this wine was in the glass.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Boo's Birthday

Boo's birthday has come around yet again and, as the birthday boy, he got to choose the restaurant we dined at - with one caveat, it had to be within walking distance. Luckily, The Drive has a more than ample list to choose from. He went with Carthage Café as it's been years since we've dined there. Indeed, I think we went opening weekend and, oops, we might not have been back since.

Boo didn't decide on where we were going until just before we needed to leave; so, we were lucky they still had a table open. Knowing that the cuisine is a blend of Tunisia and France, I grabbed a bottle of Bordeaux that we've been holding on to for a bit of an occasion dinner.

Thank goodness for the fact that BYO wine has finally arrived for BC restaurants.

1637.  2006 Château Gloria (Saint-Julien AOC - France)

We've opened a bottle of the 2004 vintage some years back - like over a thousand bottles ago and close to the start of the blog. The '04 was added to The List at #295 and I talked a bit of general lore on the winery during that post. So, in the interest of a quick post - and rather than simply repeating my earlier post - I'll just include a link to that post and anyone interested in the winery can take a look at there as well.

I have to admit that I wanted to like the wine more than I did. It wasn't a "Gloria, Hallelujah" moment for me but, then, I knew beforehand that the wine would likely be more akin to Boo's palate than mine - and it was his birthday after all.

I think I just would have enjoyed sipping the wine on its own more if it had a little more fruit front and centre. It's funny how Boo's palate leads more to a more austere, Old World wine while I tend to go for that bigger, New World fruit. I will give the wine its due, however, it paired nicely with our main courses - steak au poivre and lamb & chicken kebabs. Of which, there was an awful lot. Good thing we had just the big bellies to pack away all that food.

Naturally, there had to be a flaw in the evening. Otherwise, it would have seemed just a little too good. Luckily, it wasn't the restaurant, the food or even the wine. Rather, it was the fact that I was trying to use my new credit card for the first time since there'd been a changeover in the issuing bank. The card was declined and, as embarrassing as that was in itself, after waiting a good 15 minutes on hold to speak to someone at the bank, I gave up and had to get Boo to pay for his own birthday dinner.

Sorry about that sweetie. Maybe I'd best let you pick the next restaurant as well - and lord it over me that I'll always be the older one in the couple. And, at least you liked the wine. Happy Happy!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Traditions In the Hood

Gatu Bela is back in town. And that calls for a drink (like I need an excuse).

Gatu Bela was our neighbour for decade and the number of conversations we had over the fence or through the kitchen window are legion. It's always an occasion when she returns to Vancouver and the Lower Mainland from her new seasonal home in Mexico. Gatu Bela has declared that, after ten years, there will be no Mexican Cat Dance fundraiser this year but it might just have been replaced with another tradition, lawn sushi.

What started out as an impromptu gathering last summer when Gatu Bela was visiting the old hood seems to have morphed into an annual event - on a slightly grander scale to boot. Last year's six-some grew to all of the regular neighbourhood gang who were free on a Tuesday night. Okay, so the weather wasn't as sunny as it was last year and not many actually ate outside on the lawn, it was still a fun opportunity to catch up, eat a little raw, dead fish and add another couple of bottles to The List.

1635.  2013 River Stone Malbec Rosé (VQA Okanagan Valley)

River Stone Estate was a pleasant surprise from the Half Corked Half that Mr. Cool and I ran back in May. I was lucky to get one of the last pours of Cornerstone, River Stone's premium Meritage wine, at the pasta party the night before the race and the winery was manning one of the later "water" stations during the race. By that point of the race, I was welcoming any excuse for a bit of rest/sip.

I can't recall having run across their wines previously; so, Mr. Cool, Mimster and I stopped in for a tasting before we made our way home from the race. I picked up a handful of River Stone wines and this is the first that I'm adding to The List - after all, don't Rosé and summer nights go hand in hand?

We don't really see Malbec Rosé coming out of the Okanagan. It might be a common pour in Argentina but not so much here. You can add this to the more food friendly side of the BC Rosé spectrum - as opposed to the simple patio sippers. The wine was bold in its acidity and its tendency towards rhubarb than to the strawberries and sweet plums that often show in BC Rosé. I'm more than happy to go the food route with my Rosé though. And, I'll look forward to pulling the cork on the other River Stone wines that we picked up.

1636.  N.V. Maison L. Traminer & Fils - Roncier (France)

I'm not sure which of the neighbours brought this non-vintage red but it garnered a bit of a buzz amongst some of the crowd. I dare say, however, that the earthiness of the wine was better on its own than it ever would have been with the sushi. I'm also a little surprised that the gang was as enamoured with an Old World vin de table Pinot Noir. Maybe it was the fact that it was fleshed out a bit with some Syrah that tipped the palate for the general populace.

Again, another producer that I was unaware of, but that's what I like about seeing what other folks bring to the table. It's a great way to try new wines and new producers.

My favourite part of the evening though may not have been the wine but the great laugh we all had as a discussion topic moved on to Twitter. Gatu Bela does not tweet - although life in Mexico could be an interesting starting point - and she asked what "hagtashing" means. Baby Mama (who has quite a following under her real name) tweeted that out amidst the laughter and she received a great response, "BE HER FRIEND. They have been immersed in more useful things."

Words to take to heart. Perhaps I need to spend more time on blog entries than trying to build a Twitter following. Or, maybe more to the point, I need to limit my blog posts to 140 characters. It'd be a whole lot easier to keep up if I were to try that. 

Food for thought.

And on that happy note, I'll hagtash it out of here. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

English Doc Hits a Landmark

When did I start getting so old?

Not that I'm one to announce a lady's age, but today was the first of what's likely going to be a common occurrence in the days and years to dome. English Doc turned 60 and a gaggle of folks gathered to celebrate in that landmark birthday way. We've still got a batch of good friends' 50th b-days to come this year. So, a 60th was a bit of a wake up call. I'm not so sure that I'm ready to be hit with an even bigger decade.

Good thing there was plenty of wine to help us get through the shock. The primary pours were mimosas - and I'll admit to having joined in for a couple but I didn't grab shots of the bottles for The List because there were all Prosecco's that have already been added. Tasty? Yes. But that "silly" rule of mine says that a bottle can only be added once to The List - unless the additional bottle is a different vintage or a different size.

Of course, there were still other bottles to add.

1633.  2011 Falernia Reserva Carmenère (Valle de Elqui D.O. - Chile)

The Olivier family emigrated to Chile from northern Italy in 1951 to start life anew in the Elqui Valley. Working in agriculture from the start, the family started growing grapes in the early 1970's. The grapes, however, were destined for the production of Pisco, Chile's national spirit. After a few years of selling their grapes to other producers, the family established its own Pisco company, only to see it grow into the third largest Pisco producer in the country.

The winery's website states that in 1995, family member, Aldo Olivier, met a cousin, Giorgio Flessati, who was working in the wine industry back in Italy. Together, they founded Falernia - Chile's most northerly wine estate - in an innovative effort to transform "a tract of desert into a green vineyard." The winery now offers a wide selection of wines featuring over a dozen varieties.

I suppose it only makes sense that one of the wines offered is a Carmenère. It is, after all, the grape that first heralded Chile's arrival on the international wine scene. This particular bottling also incorporates some of the family's Italian heritage in that it is made using the appasimento method, whereby the grapes are harvested very late in the season in order to concentrate the grape juices and then left to partially dry to further increase that concentration. I hadn't known this production method had been used before I tried the wine. Had I known, that might have explained the intensity of the wine. It was quite the contrast to all the mimosas that were flowing. Talk about your opposite ends of the spectrum.

The highlight of the event was the introduction and explanation of the most spectacular of birthday cakes. In what has become a bit of a trademark for them, Lady Di and She Who Must Be Obeyed put together an homage to English Doc's first sixty years.

With a little bit of help from Axel, English Doc's main squeeze, Lady Di and SWMBO tracked down and incorporated at least eight of the cars and bikes that Doc has owned over the years. They worked in his love of the slopes (although I don't think he's ever snowboarded - but I guess you can't find a Ken doll on skis), scuba and travelling. They were hardly about to let him escape the fact that he was the first to turn 60 though. There was more than a handful of dinosaurs to be found on various stages of the cake.

Hopefully, Doc was able to get over the shock of how much dirt the girls had dug up from his past and realized that they've only done this a handful of times - and only for the biggest of birthdays. Indeed, I'm not sure that I've been party to one of their "this is your life" cakes since Boo turned 40 and that was more than a couple of years ago.

Furthermore, you'll just have to believe me when I tell you that this was also the most incredibly delicious cake as well. They could serve this to me any single day of the year - birthday or otherwise, and that comes from a guy that doesn't eat much cake.

1634.  2011 Bella Sparkling Chardonnay (Okanagan Valley)

Of course, there was a bit of a birthday toast to the birthday boy - and I made sure that there was no orange juice mixed with this bubble.

Bella is a most interesting addition to the BC wine scene. The 2011 vintage is the enterprise's first bottling as they seek to establish themselves as BC's first sparkling only winery. Sparkling wines haven't always been foremost on the list of skews for BC winemakers - even though producers like Blue Mountain and Sumac Ridge have shown for years that BC can make some very tasty bubblies. More and more wineries are joining the ranks of effervescence though.

Starting off with the Chardonnay and a Gamay Noir Rosé, this first attempt saw Bella purchase grapes and enlist the help of winemaker, Michael Bartier, and the Okanagan Crush Pad facilities. The virtual winery only saw 275 cases at the end of their initial production run but the reaction has been most favourable. The intent was to double the 2012 output and, ultimately, hit a goal of 3000 cases annually.

I don't know if the Bella paired up with the sweetness of the cake as much as the lighter, sweeter Proseccos that were also being served. The Sparkling Chardonnay showed some serious citrus and acidity and was clearly a serious sip. I'll look forward to seeing how the winery evolves.

And, on that note of evolving over time, I guess there's just no turning back time. It's just something I'll have to live with. After all, it is better than the alternative. I'll just have to hope the wine will keep flowing and we'll all be able to keep knocking it back as the years continue to add up.

Happy Happy Doc.